By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors approved a measure last week that would give $19 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds to expand housing and energy assistance.
But discussions on a proposed subcommittee on Thursday revealed divisions on giving the community a more direct role to address issues of housing equity.
Supervisors failed to reach agreement on a proposal to create a subcommittee that would be partially made up of community members to focus on housing insecurity and to develop housing eviction prevention strategies while ensuring racial equity.
The proposed subcommittee would have been tasked with providing strategy and budget recommendations to the supervisors.
Included on the subcommittee would have been the chair of the Health Equity, Human Needs and Strategic Planning Committee; two housing subject-matter experts; at least one individual who had been served with an eviction notice; and at least one individual who had experienced homelessness or other housing challenges.
“I am disappointed by the result of vote. This proposal was brought forward by the community,” said Supervisor Sequanna Taylor, lead author of the proposal. “As elected officials, we need to ensure that the will of the people can impact how Milwaukee County allocates funds. Having community members serve on subcommittees and provide recommendations to the board would do just that.”
Other board members argued that the subcommittee would place a burden on an already overtasked system.
“This group will be held back by the slowness of government,” said Supervisor Shawn Rolland, the chair of the Health Equity, Human Needs and Strategic Planning committee. “The public is already welcomed and encouraged to attend committee meetings where these things are discussed. There is no need for the work it will take to have a separate subcommittee.”
But Supervisor Ryan Clancy raised concerns about how the public participates.
“The last time the public was able to speak at a committee meeting, they had to wait five hours and were only allotted two minutes to speak,” he said. “That’s not sufficient.”
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson agreed that his office does not have the bandwidth to house a new subcommittee.
“I understand that it will be more work for us all to add this subcommittee, but when it comes to the well-being of our constituents, we are here to work,” Taylor said.
The issue of resident involvement has also been raised regarding how to spend the City of Milwaukee’s ARPA funds.
Community groups, including the African American Roundtable, have pushed for greater resident involvement. In May, the group hosted a rally calling for participatory budgeting.
“We no longer should allow decisions to be made top-down, they need to be made bottom-up,” Angela Harris, an educator in the Milwaukee Public Schools, said during an African American Roundtable rally in May.
After a lengthy debate about the value of the proposed ordinance change, nine supervisors voted for the proposal while nine voted against it.
“Voting against this proposal is not voting against housing,” Rolland said “The board does a lot for housing, and we’ve taking a major step today.”
Voting for the proposal were Supervisors Taylor, Marcelia Nicholson, Clancy, Steven Shea, Priscilla Coggs, Willie Johnson Jr., Juan Miguel Martinez, Peter Burgelis and Sheldon Wasserman.
Voting against: Supervisors Rolland, Felesia Martin, Dyango Zerpa, Kathleen Vincent, Anthony Staskunas, Deanna Alexander, Steve Taylor, Patti Logsdon and Liz Sumner.
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